Search This Blog

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Some Flawless Violin Magic from James Ehnes


Disc One

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Tzigane [10:44]

Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré [2:50]

Sonata for Violin and Piano in g Major [18:40]

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Sonata for Violin and Piano in g minor [13:26]

Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in d minor, Op. 75 [22:41]

Disc Two

Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)

Polonaise brilliante No. 2 in A, Op. 21 [8:32]

Polonaise No. 1 in D, Op. 4 [5:30]

Mazurka (Obertass) Op. 19, No. 1 [2:01]

Scherzo-Tarantella, Op. 16 [4:36]

Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 15 [11:06]

Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)

Spanish Dances, op. 21 [9:42]

Spanish Dances, op. 22 [9:50]

Spanish Dances, op. 23 [8:21]

Introduction and Tarantella [5:00]

James Ehnes (violin)

Wendy Chen (piano, disc one)

Eduard Laurel (piano, disc two)

Recorded December 20 and 22, 1999 at the Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto (disc one) and May 20-21, 2003 (disc two).

CBC RECORDS MVCD 1177-2 Disc One [68:17] Disc Two [65:34]

James Ehnes is almost without question the finest violinist of his generation, and as his career grows and he adds maturity to his immense talent, will surely soon rank as one of the greatest in history. Possessed of a flawless technique (British violinist Jack Liebeck once told me that his playing was “bulletproof”) and peerless musicality, Ehnes has a remarkable ability to shift from style to style with complete ease and facility. Whether playing big romantic concertos with the world’s finest orchestras or in this recital with piano, Ehnes is totally in his element, pulling off challenge after challenge with utter ease, poise and control.

In this combination of French masterpieces and Spanish fluff, Ehnes shows off both his serious side and his penchant for flashy showmanship. He pulls both off with aplomb and good taste. Joined by pianist Wendy Chen for a collection of staples from the impressionist canon, Ehnes plays with spot on intonation and natural sound. Of particular merit is the Ravel Sonata, which flows from dreamy to sexy to almost raunchy with its blues movement. Ehnes plays with silky elegance while not eschewing a foray or two into pure cabaret sensuality. Saint-Saëns more classic harmonies make for a pleasant contrast to all the languid impressionism of Debussy and Ravel. A composer that should be far more respected than he is, Saint-Saëns never ceases to amaze as one of the true musical craftsmen of his era. There is nary a genre in which he is not completely facile. His writing is idiomatic, his sense of form and structure are all but flawless and his works have a way of sticking to your musical ribs in a way few other composers’ music can. Ehnes and Chen spin out line after seamless line to make this tuneful showpiece a thrilling ending to the first disc of this set.

Joined on disc two by his long time recital partner Eduard Laurel, Ehnes gives us a sizable program of virtuoso gems from two of the better nineteenth century musical circus acts, Wieniawski and Sarasate. If you are seeking depth and profundity here you won’t find it, but you will leave the room satisfied with some catchy tunes and amazed at how easily James Ehnes can execute every technical magic trick in the book. I confess that I am not really as in love with this music as I am the French, but one cannot help but sit back in awe of just how well this music is performed. Alas, Mr. Laurel, who has in other outings has proven himself to be a pianist of exceptional abilities, does not get to shine in the way that Ms. Chen does in the more demanding works of the first disc. Nonetheless he seems to have a good time and plays with panache.

To date, I have not found a bad recording in all the discs that Mr. Ehnes has released and this is no exception. Now that he has recorded a great deal of the classic repertoire, it would be great fun to hear him tackle some more modern works. Maybe Paul Moravec will compose a sonata or concerto for Mr. Ehnes. Good idea, no?

No comments: